The man was Gerhard Wolf, a career diplomat who was posted to Florence in 1940, soon after the heady days of Mussolini’s triumphal visit to Florence with his staunch admirer, Adolf Hitler. Consul Wolf was later to become declared an honorary citizen of Florence.
Life had continued along in Florence reasonably well until 1943, when the exasperated German high command occupied Italy. Consul Wolf then became instrumental in preventing the Nazi’s from removing art treasures from the city, while working to save many Jews from deportation, including the famous art historian, Bernard Berenson. Herr Wolf was aided in his efforts by Rudolf Rahn, the deputy ambassador to Rome, and Ludwig Heydenreich, director of the Florentine Kunsthistorisches Institut.
On the Ponte Vecchio, at mid-span, is a plaque commemorating his achievements, particularly the preservation of this historical bridge.
By the summer of 1944, the allies were advancing on the outskirts of Florence. The German military commander ordered all the bridges over the Arno to be blown up. Gerhard Wolf succeeded in negotiating for the preservation of the Ponte Vecchio by having the army blow up a stretch of buildings adjacent the bridge along the south bank of the Arno river, thus rendering the bridge itself inaccessible.
There is a touching side note to these events.
Gerhard Wolf was born in Dresden.
The plaque in Italian reads: “Gerhard Wolf (1886–1962). German consul, born at Dresden—subsequently twinned with the city of Florence—in played a decisive role in the salvation of the Ponte Vecchio (1944) from the barbarism of the Second World War and was instrumental in rescuing political prisoners and Jews from persecution at the height of the Nazi occupation. The comune places this plaque on 11 April 2007 in memory of the granting of honorary citizenship.”